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Awkward Conversations (Getting Opinions from Other Schools)

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I'm seeking advice on an awkward situation:

School A has Dr. X, who is the top expert in one of the very specific subjects I'm interested in. School A accepted me but without funding, so I can't attend. Now I want Dr. X's opinion on which of my other options would be best for that specific subject. This is more specific than a subfield, so I can't get this info from any better source. But how do I ask Dr. X for it??

I haven't yet contacted School A or Dr. X regarding my admission, but I've spoken with Dr. X before and know that he's cool. All of my other schools have been really nice and honest about their opinion of the other schools that accepted me, but this conversation is difficult because it will be in the context of "I'd like to work with you... but I can't... because your department is too poor... so who else should I work with?"

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How about contacting him and saying how thrilled you are to have been accepted, but since finances are an issue for you, regretfully you will have to choose another school with a better funding offer. You greatly appreciate the offer from School X, blah blah blah. Then mention you are still deciding between offers from School B and C. Pause and see if he jumps in with opinions.

If there is complete silence, then you could ask directly -- Say Professor, since you are so knowledgeable in this field, (continue sincere flattery) do you have any opinions on the quality of these programs? If he doesn't seem willing to say anything, I wouldn't push it too much I'm sure you can get opinions from other places too.

At the same time, I think professors understand not everyone can go tens of thousands of dollars or more into debt, and funding is probably the least awkward reason for a decline.

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I've done this once: after I withdrew my application to a certain school, I continued corresponding with my potential adviser there and after a while decided to ask her what she thought of my other offers. I got sincere and interesting advice I'm grateful for. Potential advisers at other schools I visited, who had asked me where else I was accepted, sometimes offered advice about those places, pointing out good points about them--which I really appreciated. I think the more distinguished the professor was, the more likely she was to say good things about other schools/people. I say, try asking Dr. X the way orangepotato suggested and you might get a positive response. Everyone understands that funding plays a big factor in our decision, so Dr. X should have no adverse reaction to your having to decline.

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I am in the exact same position that you are, and I was surprised at how understanding and helpful my "Doctor X" was. He gave me a lot of advice about departments and who might be good to work with, and told me to keep in touch and that he'd like to read my MA thesis. It was very friendly and there were no hard feelings.

When asking I was honest about the funding issue. But my Doctor X wanted to know what other programs I was considering and did not have to be prompted for advice. If you know your Doctor X is cool, this shouldn't be a problem at all. In my opinion, individual profs don't hold the funding situation against prospective students. It would be a different situation if you were declining the offer for another reason, but I expect that the conversation won't be awkward and he'll give you good advice.

Good luck!

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